Bertha E. Jaques and the Chicago Society of Etchers
Joby Patterson

About FDU Press


New Releases

Recent Publications by Topic

Recent Book Reviews

Book Reviews by Topic

Submission Guidelines

Book Review

I first met Joby Patterson in Bucharest in 1970, where she and her husband had been given living quarters at Grozavesti, the student section in the former royal stables. It was one of the many amenities enjoyed by our small pioneering group of American IREX and Fulbright Fellows in Ceausescu’s Romania. While accompanying her spouse, Jim, on his remarkable researches in anthropology, Joby Patterson began her own remarkable series of studies of medieval and early modern Romanian architecture which years later culminated in her landmark book, Wooden Churches of the Carpathians: A Comparative Study. In January, 1998, she was the first American (not counting one Romanian-American) to receive her Ph.D. from the University of Babes-Bolyai in Cluj. Art historian, art dealer, and writer, she brings an extensive background into play in her new work, an interesting, detailed, and aesthetically pleasing book about a group of artists and their organization which to the broad public outside of Chicago and perhaps New York will be relatively unknown.

The “Needle Club” came into existence on a Chicago rooftop porch in the summer of 1909 when four artists formed a club for etchers thereby formalizing an “invisible bond that holds together the spirits of those working in a common direction.” (p. 15) By 1910 the group was incorporated as the Chicago Society of Etchers and held its first exhibit in the so-called Club Room of the Chicago Art Institute. In this first book-length study of the CSE and its chief architect Bertha E. Jaques (1863-1941), Patterson shows how the society played a profound role in developing popular American artistic taste in the first half of the twentieth century, not only by inspiring other etching societies modeled after it, but by making the best of prints available to a broad and receptive public whose taste had been dulled and desensitized by the commercialization of etching which had reached saturation point in the 1890’s. Over its life of forty-seven years, the CSE would exhibit at least 40,000 prints across America, whose impact has been underevaluated and uninvestigated until the appearance of Patterson’s study.

It is hard to say which facet of the book is more interesting, the ninety-two black and white and eight color illustrations, all of beautifully reproduced etchings and prints (the publisher is indeed to be complimented on the technical quality of the book), or the straightforward, expository writing of the text—few frills, few rhetorical flourishes, just fact after fact, lists of artists, summaries of each exhibition through the years, quotations from the program documents and the artists themselves lending the human touch and establishing the work of the society and its evolution in context with the social, artistic, and economic settings of the World War, the Twenties, the Depression Era, and so on.

Among the most interesting topics to this reader is the discussion of the CSE’s unwavering resistance to modernism, despite the expectable criticism in some quarters and the formation of a rival or alternative group, the Chicago No-Jury Society of Artists. Far from losing support, the CSE in fact grew more popular as it passed out of the frenetic and trendy Twenties.

Through maintenance of the status quo it found its ilk and stuck to a consistent position, so that its followers knew they could always rely upon the Society to produce traditional, academic, and representational works. In the twenties this constituted the bulk of Americans interested in prints. (p. 70)

Would that we had had far more artistic groups unwilling to cave in to the ephemeral, the anarchic, and the chaotic, in all areas of American life.

Even though membership in the CSE reached the highest point in its history in 1931, with 600 combined active and associate members, this stance for traditionalism continued to produce problems. In the fall of that year Mrs. Jaques “retired” as the organizer of the annual exhibitions. Behind this move lay deep disagreement which had been developing between the Society and the Chicago Art Institute which, under the leadership of Robert Harshe, moved to embrace modernism, as expressed in the famous Century of Progress exhibition of 1933. The Society never quite regained the influential position it had when associated with the Art Institute; it did recover in modified form and began its own series of exhibitions at Roullier Gallery late in 1932. (p. 86) In 1935 and 1936 the Society gave the National Gallery of Art some 694 prints, now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. (p. 102). Bertha Jaques’s death in 1941, however, and the call to military service of her successor James Swann, caused morale to falter, and the Society functioned at a minimal level until its final exhibition in 1956.

The final chapter is devoted specifically to Bertha Evelyn Jaques herself, the dedicated force and the guiding spirit behind the CSE from its beginning. A talented artist in her own right, tireless in her endeavors to promote etching as an art form, adept at technical experimentation, she was the link between artists and the public, and served as an inspiration to thousands. “If the twentieth-century etching revival could be attributed to any one individual, it would be Bertha Jaques,” Patterson concludes. (p. 121).

No less useful are the Appendices, which will be invaluable both to collectors and students of the subject. They include a complete list of the Presentation Prints of the CSE, 1910 to 1956, the Prizes awarded at CSE exhibitions from 1914 to 1956, the Exhibiting Members of the CSE and the Years and Cities in which their work appeared, and a full list of the dates and places of all CSE exhibitions from 1910.

The notes and bibliography will be the starting point from this year forward for any researcher or devotée of the subject, and reflect the wide-ranging and exhaustive nature of the work which went into compiling this remarkable volume.

Bibliophilos, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Summer 2003

To see a full description of this book, search our online database

2010 Eastpark Boulevard
Cranbury, New Jersey 08512
Phone (609) 655-4770
Fax (609) 655-8366

285 Madison Avenue
Madison, New Jersey 07940
Phone (973) 443-8564
Fax (973) 443-8364


Photograph courtesy of Louise Dell-Bene Stahl © 2001

Copyright © 2006, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. Information on FDU web pages is provided as a convenience for the University community and others seeking information. It is the responsibility of the visitor to verify the information. This page originally created with FDU Pagetoaster 2. [Latest update 060202] Click to see how'd they do that?
Click if you are the owner and you wish to edit this page.